Ukraine

Ukraine

Although Ukraine continues to experience political instability, the churches are growing and embracing their role of influence within society. MB Mission is involved in church planting through providing support and training to local pastors. Evelyn Wiens and her late husband, John, were overseeing some of this training as well as giving leadership to the New Hope Church and the New Hope Training Center. Their work is continuing as the Center provides orphans with a home and with vocational training.

There is urgent support needed for our churches who find themselves in the midst of the conflict. They are boldly sharing the love of Christ and the good news, to learn more of how you can be a part of this please read the following updates.

More videos from Ukraine

March 2015 Update

At the end of 2013, after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych opted out of a proposed economic deal with the European Union in order to form closer ties with Russia, thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev to protest. In 2014, these protests became violent, as Yanukovych and his regime sought to crack-down on the demonstrators. Yanukovych, now lacking broad support in the country, fled and was impeached, as Ukraine instituted a new government, and the restoration of its previous constitution, which Yanukovych had overturned.

This revolution sparked protests and conflict in Donbass, the region in Ukraine including Donetsk and Luhansk, as pro-Russian and anti-government separatists fought for their own independence from the new Ukrainian government. Reports vary as to how involved Russia has been, but the separatists have been supported by Russian weapons, Russian technology, and, in many cases, Russian soldiers — the country’s involvement has lengthened and stagnated a conflict that could have ended early on in a rout. As it stands now, one ceasefire agreed upon in September has fallen apart, and another, negotiated in February by Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Petro Poroshenko, and Vladimir Putin (the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia, respectively) teeters on the brink of a breakdown. For the moment, Minsk II, as the agreement is known, holds, but it is fragile, and conflict continues, though at a much smaller scale. There have thus far been over 30,000 casualties, and according to the Kiev Post, nearly 90 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the ceasefire was put into place.

Needless to say, people in Ukraine have been struggling. The war has affected the entire country — the economy shrunk by 7.5 percent in 2014, the currency has cratered, and credit is frozen. Problems are even more acute in the east. According to numbers coming out of the West, there are more than one million displaced peoples, many leaving the war-torn regions for bigger cities, which can scarcely handle the flood of new arrivals. The able-bodied who have stayed in areas like Donetsk have no place to work, and the bulk who remain are the sick, elderly, women, and children.

What so we do when we encounter such suffering, such evil? What should be the Christian response? How should a church in Fresno/Clovis/Sanger, California, respond? How should you?

In December 2014, in consultation with MB Mission Europe leader Johann Matthies, the “Warm Church” project was born. In many communities throughout the eastern portion of the country, there existed a sizable amount of schools, businesses, and churches that were unable to heat their buildings. Many of the areas near the war have no running water or electricity, shops or grocery stores. The situation is dire. Eight of our sister churches are in desperate need. Johann was able to quickly mobilize German, American, and Canadian churches to help meet the needs. As a result, all of our Ukrainian churches were open each day to be a “Warm Church,” welcoming people and providing food, clothing, activity, and the opportunity to worship Jesus. Before the project began, 305 people attended the eight churches combined. To date, 570 new people attended these activities in the churches, and 133 of those have continued their church involvement.

This is a great success, but there is more. Church leaders, led by Sergei, Roma, and Alexey, have been taking food and clothing to the war zone. Three churches in Fresno — Mountain View Community Church, New Harvest Church, and NorthPointe Community Church — purchased two large vans to deliver food and clothing to the war zone surrounding Donetsk and Mariupol. Fred Leonard, Mountain View Lead Pastor, Lawrence Smith, Mountain View Worship Pastor, and Tony Petersen, MB Mission missionary in Peine, Germany, joined Johann Matthies to travel to Ukraine, pick up the vehicles and use them for the first time to deliver food, clothing, supplies, Bibles, and the gospel to the people in this suffering region.

We entered Ukraine on a mission from God, with the prayers of the Christians in Fresno and Germany going before us. We felt the peace and power of God. What we encountered was almost beyond description. With the team of Ukrainian pastors who had made this trip dozens of times before, we set out for the Donetsk area, a nearly seven-hour drive away and a mere three-to-four miles from the front. We saw the elderly, the injured, and single parents with small children. We entered their living spaces where many had no running water, no electricity, and no food, with their only source of heat coming from bricks laid atop a propane-powered stove top. They are dependent on outside aid. Weekly, these brave and godly Ukrainian church leaders drive to this war zone. The night before and the night after we spent time in Donetsk shelling occurred, and the pastors were thrilled that this was their first trip to the region where they did not have to contend with gunfire.

We also met Ukrainian soldiers, both those from the Ukrainian army and volunteers — men and women who want to fight for an independent Ukraine, free from the machinations of Russia and Vladimir Putin. We gave them food, socks, Christian literature, Bibles, prayer, and the love of Jesus, the best we knew how. We went into bomb shelters where people live for weeks on end. We saw destroyed houses and apartments. We went to the hospital and prayed for wounded soldiers, that God might heal their bodies and souls. We saw children thankful for candy yet unable to smile, deep creases of concern on the faces of parents and the elderly, and the terror of what happens in the absence of peace and hope.

We also saw the hope that the Church brings when she comes in the power, love, and name of Jesus. We saw the remarkable power of prayer. We saw the love of God in action by the Church being the Church to the Church in Ukraine. We gathered with pastors and church leaders and we listened, shared, laughed, and cried with them. We ate Borsch and Verenika with them and most importantly we prayed with them. It was a life-altering experience.

In our interactions with Ukrainian pastors and those who have suffered, we asked them questions: How can we help? What can we do? What can we tell churches in North America? Based on their responses, our observations, and the tender guidance of God, allow us to make three suggestions.

Go. It is imperative to have a “theology of presence.” God sent his only Son who lived among us — Immanuel, God with us. Something divine happens when we are together. So we go. However, perhaps you are unable to go physically. There are two other necessary ways to advance God’s Kingdom and spread his Gospel.
Give. You can support Ukrainian Mennonite Brethren churches through supporting MB Mission. They are praying for the ability to visit the war zone multiple times each week. The cost is $7,500 per month for fuel for vehicles, food, clothing, Bibles, medicine, and assorted other examples of aid. Why not support a month of this ministry as a church, or small group, or family? Our church has covered them through April, but what about from May on? You fund the Great Commission by giving and this is a way of going to meet the physical and spiritual needs of those who desperately need it.
Pray. When you pray for the situation in Ukraine you are there, both by your unity with the global body of believers and through the hand of God that moves in response to our intercession. You go right to the situation when you pray. You have travelled to Ukraine and stand spiritually with the people when you pray. There are five things we can pray for:
1) peace in Ukraine;
2) the withdrawal of Russian troops;
3) the salvation of Vladimir Putin;
4) food and clothing for those in need;
5) the powerful witness of our Ukrainian MB churches to see the salvation of many.

We are honored to have been to Ukraine and to join with our Christian brothers and sisters there. Join them now too by going, giving, and praying.

Fred Leonard, Tony Petersen, Lawrence Smith

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December 2014 Update

Despite the advancement of Russian military forces into Ukraine, our churches there are thriving and rising to the challenge of meeting the desperate needs of people all around them. We rejoice that God has given new life and renewed vision to his people in Ukraine.

It has been almost one year since John Wiens, our long-term worker in Ukraine, passed away and his wife, Evelyn, decided to remain in Canada.

Though their leadership has been sorely missed, God has provided graciously for the church through the involvement of new leadership. Johann Matthies, our European Director, has offered his help through regular visits to the area in the past year, and we have recently appointed James and Elfreida Nikkel as “champions” of our Ukraine Ministry. The Nikkels just returned from an exciting visit to Ukraine and they wanted to share some highlights with you.

“The churches that we visited in Ukraine are vibrant and spiritually alive,” the Nikkels reported. “Even though we arrived in a snowstorm and we departed just before the military shut down the airports, we felt so privileged to be with our brothers and sisters at this time. Even though the war is threatening their safety and security, it was amazing to see their resilience and courage in reaching out to refugees of war and even taking trips into the war zone to provide food and warm clothing to soldiers, along with Bibles and the Gospel message.”

The Nikkels were able to visit churches and encourage leaders in Zaporozhye, Nikolai Pole, Balkovo, Tokmak, and Molochansk. They were also able to spend some time at the New Hope Training Center and its assocated ministries that offer essential mentoring and training for orphans. James and Elfreida were both encouraged with the effectiveness of these ministries and the passion that they saw in the hearts of the staff.

The Nikkels also reported about a new and unique opportunity that has emerged for children’s ministry in Balkovo, which is being the “Warm Church Project.” Because the government has closed down schools during the coldest time of year, churches are being encouraged to heat their buildings and invite children in the community to gather on specific days for crafts, recreation and vacation Bible school programs.

Please continue to pray for the churches in Ukraine as they face the plight of war. Pray also for the vital ministry among orphans like the New Hope Training Center, that their staff would be encouraged and that they would receive the necessary funding.

To hear more from the Nikkels about their recent trip to Ukraine, please feel free to contact them directly by email at james@nikkel.com or call 604-850-8475. To make a donation to church planting in Ukraine or to support related initiatives such as the Warm Church Project, please go to mbmission.org/donate and contribute to the Ukraine Ministry Project.

For the sake of God's Kingdom in Ukraine,
Randy Friesen
General Director, MB Mission

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